With David Koetser;
From whom acquired by Baron van Dedem at TEFAF Maastricht in 2013.
The flowers depicted here, which include a red anemone, lily-of-the-valley, a snake’s head fritillary, grape hyacinth and – turned away from the viewer – a viola tricolor, are asymmetrically arranged in a small roemer glass. Multiple highlights on the bosses of the glass, reflections within the water and the refracted lines of stems convincingly render the translucency of the little vase. Two water droplets on the shelf’s surface and two on the leaves add to the vivid sense of illusionism. The most striking trompe l’œil effects are reserved for the border, which is unique in the artist’s work. Peeters' experimentation with such imagery suggests an awareness of the work of Joris Hoefnagel (1542–1601), a Flemish illuminator and draughtsman, whose depictions of insects and flowers may have come to her attention via the medium of engraving. Here eight creatures are arranged symmetrically, mirroring one another, each one carefully positioned and delineated. Bluebottle and ladybird are marshalled into the top and bottom positions; dragonflies are paired in the upper corners; a caterpillar and a wood wasp of equivalent size crawl towards the oval’s middle; and at the bottom, the larger, weightier creatures – snail and maybug – progress upwards, the curved surfaces of shell and wing-cover beautifully observed. Curiously one insect, the wood wasp on the right, is painted without its shadow.
One of few comparable paintings in Peeters’ relatively small œuvre – albeit without the illusionistic border – is a work on panel that depicts a simple bouquet of flowers arranged in a similar roemer, signed with the same signature form as in the present work, which sold at Sotheby’s, London, on 16 April 1997, lot 54.1 A similar glass of flowers features in the background of the signed fish piece at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.2 Even more closely related is the bouquet in Peeters' possible self-portrait, with Rafael Vals in 1996 and now in a private collection (fig. 1).3 Dr Fred G. Meijer, to whom we are grateful for his observations, dates all these examples to about 1618. Furthermore Dr Meijer compares the handling in this work to two other floral still lifes, one formerly in the Avery collection, Pasadena, and the other in a private collection in Prague,4 albeit that the floral arrangement here is less dense. Dr Meijer has pointed out that Peeters did not include insects very often; the latter still life features a bluebottle on the centre leaf very like the one in the present work; and a dragonfly and maybug crawl in the foreground of a flower painting at the Kröller Müller Museum, Otterloo.5 A further unusual feature of this painting is the oval form of the still life. The only other painting by Peeters known to date to adopt such a format is Virgin and Child within a floral wreath, signed and dated 1621, also painted on copper and of similar dimensions to the present work.6 The overall effect, however, is markedly different; here the white border gives the oval composition a crisp and uncluttered appearance.
The most original aspect of the painting is the use of a white ground for the still-life elements. Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625) employed it for his very small painting of a mouse, rose and butterfly, probably done in 1605 for Cardinal Borromeo. This still life by Peeters constitutes a remarkably early instance of such compositional innovation. Datable in the opinion of Dr Meijer to the second half of the 1610s, contemporary with the examples cited above, Still life surrounded by insects and a snail is without precedent. Peeters' use of a white border, with its measured emphasis on individual elements, anticipates the celebrated studies of insects by Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626–1679) of the 1650s.
1 Oil on panel, 26.9 x 20.9 cm.
2 No. SK-A-2111; oil on panel, 25 x 34.8 cm. P. Hibbs Decoteau, Clara Peeters, 1594–ca. 1640, and the development of still-life painting in Northern Europe, Lingen 1992, reproduced in colour on p. 111, pl. I.
3 Oil on panel, 37.2 x 50.2 cm. See A. Lenders, in A. Vergara (ed), The Art of Clara Peeters, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp & Madrid 2016, p. 62, reproduced p. 64, fig. 33.
4 Both on panel; respectively 42.2 x 30.5 cm., reproduced Hibbs Decoteau 1992, p. 117, pl. IV, and 42.4 x 30.3 cm., reproduced Hibbs Decoteau 1992, p. 26, ill. 13.
5 Reproduced Hibbs Decoteau 1992, p. 53, ill. 38.
6 15 x 13 cm.; Hibbs Decoteau 1992, p. 33, ill. 19.
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